Prosecutors are 'quitting in droves,' and it's bad news for defendants, law prof says
Prosecutors are “quitting in droves,” while the offices that employ them are getting a fraction of the applications that they have in the past, according to a law professor who studied the problem. (Image from Shutterstock)
Prosecutors are “quitting in droves,” while the offices that employ them are getting a fraction of the applications that they have in the past, according to a law professor who studied the problem.
Vacancies in prosecution offices are higher than 15% in Houston and Los Angeles; higher than 20% in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Detroit; at 25% in Alameda, California; and at 33% in Miami.
Some vacancies may be due to the “George Floyd effect,” according to Gershowitz. Floyd, a Black man, died in Minneapolis in May 2020, while a police officer pinned him to the ground and pushed a knee into his neck. Since then, more law students favor jobs as public defenders than as prosecutors, Gershowitz said.
The result has been plummeting job applications at prosecution offices. Also discouraging applicants are huge caseloads made worse by COVID-19 pandemic backlogs; low pay that is typically at about $70,000 for entry-level positions; the lack of remote work; and time-consuming discovery obligations stemming from technology, such as police body cameras and video footage.
Vacancies are also a problem when progressive prosecutors are elected and those in their office leave because of policy disagreements. And fewer people are available to apply because of a decline in the number of law school graduates and the percentage of people passing the bar during the pandemic.
The number of prosecutor applicants in Miami-Dade County, Florida, for example, had decreased to 300 people per year in 2023. A top prosecutor in the office told Gershowitz that in 1991, when he was hired, there were 2,000 applicants for 23 job openings.
In Colorado’s 17th Judicial District, north of Denver, the district attorney sought to fill 10 job openings in August 2021. He received only one or two applications, and all the positions were still unfilled in March 2022.
The vacancies “are actually bad news” for criminal defendants, Gershowitz wrote.
Overworked prosecutors will take longer to recognize when a defendant is innocent, have less time to screen cases to send to drug court, and have less time to determine which defendants are less culpable and deserving of a favorable plea deal.